Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Taking a trip to the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua by bus

We have always wanted to visit the Atlantic Side of Nicaragua and early in January we were finally able to make the trip.

We left León at noon by the inter-local which took us to the La UCA terminal in Managua. We left León early because we had reserved our tickets for the bus and we were told we had to be at the Costa Atlantica (Ivan Montenegro) Terminal by 4 pm to pay for them or risk loosing our seats. It is possible to take a chicken bus from the Mayoreo bus Terminal but be aware that they can take up to 8 hours since they stop all along the route. The Wendelyn Vargas bus is an express bus and it will get you to your destination in only 6 hours (there is a short "lunch" break half way through the drive).

After lunch at Metrocentro Mall we took a taxi across town to the bus station. We paid a little more for the taxi because we took a "secure" taxi from the Mall - $250 cordobas for the two of us.

Upon arriving at the bus terminal we paid our fare and received two tickets for the trip - one for the bus with a seat number written on it and one ticket for the panga once we get to El Rama. The night we left there were 3 buses traveling together. Your ticket will indicate which bus you are on.

Poster with Bus and Panga times and current rates
 The buses are old "school" buses with "deluxe" seating - more comfortable chairs than your regular bench seating. Your luggage will be stowed on top of the bus and covered with a tarp to keep it dry. They start loading the luggage about an hour before departure. The buses will be marked I, II or III and if you have any doubt which one you are assigned to the attendants will help you out.

Old school buses used for your trip to the Atlantic side of Nicaragua

Tickets for the bus and panga
After an uneventful ride across country we arrived in El Rama at 3:15 am. There were a few food vendors open for business but there were no bathroom facilities available at this time. After collecting our luggage we noticed that there was a line up at the office. We had already bought our tickets for the panga and didn't think we had to join the line - but you do! This is when you get your panga assignment. We were at the end of the line and were given #8 which caused a lot of confusion when it came time to load onto the pangas - there was no panga #8...... No worries - we were squished onto #7. This office is also where you will purchase your return bus ticket to Managua.
Office in El Rama where you get your panga assignment
About 4:30 - 5:00 am you will notice that the Port Office across the street is open. You will have to pay 5 cordobas per person to enter. There is a large waiting room, but more importantly there are bathroom facilities available.
Entry to the Port of El Rama
 About 6 am they will start loading the first panga by calling out the numbers in order.  They will put your luggage in the front and cover it with a tarp. They should have life jackets available for everyone on the panga. They panga ride from El Rama to Bluefields will take about 2 hours (or less if you have a crazy driver like we did). If it starts raining along the route the driver will hand out a plastic sheet to cover the passengers with to try and protect them from the worst of the rain.

Loaded into the panga and ready to go

We enjoyed our trip out to the Atlantic side of Nicaragua - a true adventure in itself. We found that traveling by bus and panga was a fairly quick and inexpensive way to get around. The cost to get from León, Nicaragua to Bluefields, Nicaragua was only 586 cordobas per person (including our expensive taxi across Managua) or just under $24.00 CDN.  In comparison, if we had taken a flight from Managua to Bluefields the flight alone would have cost us $82.46 US - so the bus is truly a budget option!

We arrived in Bluefields at 8:30 am - tired and ready for breakfast!

Check out the Rightside Guide website for all kinds of information about exploring the Atlantic coast of Nicaragua.